A Sensible Choice

We arrived.

The creases of my body were still damp from the tank, muscles still sluggish from hypersleep. Our foreman read from the roster. Ninety of our mob were grouped by occupation; sensible choices for mankind’s sequel. Of the remaining ten, eight were listed alongside their lifetime achievements. They too were sensible choices.

That left Mike and me. Mike had made coffee in a swank café back on Earth. One of the engineers said he could whip up an espresso machine if a botanist could grow the beans. Everyone agreed Mike belonged. As for me, the foreman checked his list again to make sure there wasn’t some mistake. But there I was, at the very bottom with a blank space by my name. No achievements. No special skills.

We divvied up the food. I overheard the accountant remark to the herdsman that I should have gotten a smaller share. The herdsman nodded quietly, but said nothing. Mike put his arm around me. “Don’t mind them,” he said. “Some qualities can’t be measured.”

By the time my first child was born, Earth II had a basic infrastructure and sufficient comforts for an enjoyable life. Two farmers sustained the whole colony, and taught each household how to grow food to supplement their stocks. The craftsman and the designer supplied clothes and furnishings. The writer and the actor produced plays and songs, which they performed live for a crowd or broadcasted over the small communications network constructed by our three engineers. In the clearing of the botanists’ forest, Mike set up shop. I took orders and waited on tables.

One day, as I served his coffee, the accountant patted my hand and looked me in the eye. “Don’t worry, girly, I know how you feel.” He went on to tell me that the more our cashless society flourished, the more he felt like he didn’t belong.

Mike and I had four children together. He had another seven with other women, and I had another eight with other men. Our mandate was to fill the next generation with as much diversity as we could. Every child in the colony was skilled at something by the time they were nine. They started their own families as soon as their bodies were ready. Girls as young as ten were bringing children of their own to term. It would have been horrifying by old Earth standards, but in this new world, we did what was needed to survive.

Half of our tribe were sent away to start a settlement in the east. Mike died of old age just after our youngest left, and from then on, my life became very quiet. I spent my days making coffee the way he had taught me. I could go for weeks without speaking a word.

Then it happened. When he was thirty, my son by the accountant watched his father succumb to the virus that took Earth. So it had followed us here after all. My granddaughter sat on my lap as I combed her hair; we listened to their final moments from another room. In the years that followed, more from the first fleet fell ill and passed away. Children from our first generation were taken. Then children from the second. Then from the third. The biologists who remained, young and old, raced to find a vaccine, but many of them succumbed too. Our population dwindled.

We received a message from the eastern settlement. The virus had ravaged their populations. Their mission was a failure. They were coming home.

The survivors of their camp reached us as the sun set low over the horizon. We huddled in the chilly evening air and exchanged greetings with warmth and open arms. My heart hung heavy with our losses, but in that fog of sorrow, I couldn’t help but feel a spark of joy at embracing loved ones I thought I’d never see again. My children. Their children.

As I looked through the crowd, I saw in it hints of faces I remembered from our ship all those years ago; the engineers, the botanists, the accountant, my beloved Mike. And so many more. We were one family by proximity and by blood, all carrying the genetic immunity my father planted in me before securing me a place among the fleet. He alone guessed it was only a matter of time before the virus struck again. For my own safety, we told no one. He knew what man was capable of. Yet still, he wanted to give us a chance against the disease. A chance to start over.

So, I was a sensible choice too.

March 2016. Exploring an idea from a reddit writing prompt. Thank you to my beta readers londonjustin, nikmacd, jonogurney and niaalist. Img via Dominik Martin (CC0).

Snippet: Orange zone

She poked her head round the door. “You wanted to see me?”

“Close the door behind you.” McBride barely looked away from his monitor. “Sit down, give me a minute.”

The office was small and stuffy, lined by shelves bursting with thick binders. Micah wondered if her boss even knew what was in those binders. There was no way he filled all of them himself. But he was the stuff of legends around this place, part of the furniture now. The varnish on his desk was wearing away at the edges. The permanent coffee ring beside his stuffed rolodex was just too perfect.

Micah’s shifted uncomfortably in her chair. It creaked. Her hand brushed against where the paint had come away on the frame, leaving bare patches of metal that slowly rusted. She had adopted one particular patch as her own. Whenever a lecture kicked off, she’d trace its outline to keep her fingers busy so her mind wouldn’t wander.

McBride didn’t look happy when he finally got to her. He looked as weary as his desk and her chair. He looked like he could have filled those binders after all.

“Here we are again.” He spoke slowly, deliberately. “Look, Micah, I’ll level with you. With stats like these, there won’t be much I can do once they start letting people go.”

The outline was different today. A little bigger with a change in shape. Someone else had picked at it since she last sat here. A new thread was loose in the upholstery fabric. It tickled her wrist as she searched for a new rust patch to occupy herself.

“Hey, cheer up, you’re not getting fired today.” McBride leaned forward. “Listen, your survey scores are pretty good. If you can stay orange for a few weeks, I might be able to work something out, all right?”

It was all well and good for the boss to offer, but she had been busting her ass for weeks to get her call stats up. It followed her home. More recently, she started waking up with a sore jaw from grinding her teeth in her sleep. She couldn’t help it if the customers were hard of hearing, or called up on a bad line, or needed every little thing explained. No way could she get to orange, let alone stay there.

But there wasn’t anywhere else she could do. Not with Shelby’s buying up all the support agencies in town. She needed this. She hated it but needed it. Even if she ran out of teeth.

Excerpt from my Nanowrimo 2017 WIP, Sleeper. Img via ronaldo (CC0).

Snippet: Run

Outside, it stormed. Rain fell hard on the house and the iron sheet roof of the shed next door. Micah was awake when she heard the voice again.

Run, it said, as a bolt from the clouds lit the horizon. Thunder followed. The clock in the hall struck one in the morning.

Her boozey veil was lifting, but the headache kept her pinned to the bed. She squinted against it and tried to keep reading, but in no time, her eyes forced themselves shut.

They opened again in time to stop the book from falling on her face. It was late. She was delirious.

Run, it repeated. She turned off the lamp and curled under her blanket, only just aware of the new resolve burning in her belly. Solid and foreign, unfamiliar.

In the morning, she snuck out before sunrise and ran. Past the house with the broken fence. Over the still highway and down five blocks into the empty school The air was crisp and damp, filled with the sound of her shoes hitting the pavement and then soft lawn.

The grass was a treasure on her feet. They were already aching, confined within her slab-soled Chuck Taylors, the closest thing to running shoes she owned.

She ran across the football field, out the other side and back onto the sidewalk, passing street after street before turning down a long alley with two tracks worn in the grass.

The birds were silent. A wind picked up. The pounding in her chest drowned out her footsteps as she passed panel after panel of corrugated fence; the wall between her and the world.

Up ahead, a hobo mattress lay propped up against a pile of old boxes. Anyone could be hiding there. Her heartbeat tightened into fear; the hood of her jacket became hands on her back. She remembered grandma’s warnings about bad men taking children away if they ran off by themselves. She remembered the story in the paper last week about a girl’s body found in a secluded alley. What was she doing here, alone, in this neighbourhood?

“She asked for it,” they would say, as they pull her, pale and broken, from beneath a sheet of cardboard.

But the voice spoke again: Run.

Excerpt from my Nanowrimo 2017 WIP, “Sleeper”.